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Anxiety disorders

Self-care and helping someone with an anxiety disorder

Feeling anxious right now?

If you are feeling too anxious to concentrate, try this slow breathing technique.

  1. Hold your breath for 5 seconds.
  2. Breathe in for 3 seconds.
  3. Breathe out for 3 seconds.
  4. Keep doing these slow breaths in and out for 1 minute.
  5. Repeat for another minute. Stop when your anxiety lessens.

Helping yourself

Learn how to control anxiety whenever you experience it. Here are some things that have worked for other people with anxiety.

  • Use proven techniques to help you calm down, such as slow breathing, mindfulness or relaxation.
  • Think carefully about how realistic your worries are. How likely is it that the thing you're afraid of will happen? Or if you're telling yourself you 'must' do something, is this really true?
  • Try to distract yourself by doing something you enjoy. For example, have an in-depth conversation with someone, read a book, take time out with a pet, go for a walk, or do some gardening.
  • Do you have a practical problem that you might be able to do something about? Try brainstorming to come up with some solutions and make a plan to put the best solution into action. Even just going through the problem-solving process can make you feel calmer.
  • Are you feeling anxious about not having done something you know you should do? Try taking a small step toward doing that thing. It doesn't matter how small – for example, if you're anxious about tidying the house, start with some dusting.

To manage your anxiety in the long term:

  • Gradually learn to confront the things you're anxious about. Start with the least scary, and move up to the things you worry most about.
  • Learn about anxiety and teach others about what you’re going through.
  • Join a support group in person or online.
  • Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day. Exercising changes your brain chemicals and can help to reduce anxiety.
  • Spend time with friends and family whose company makes you happy, particularly people who manage stress well.
  • Be aware of the signs of depression. Many people with anxiety disorders also have depression.
  • Are you dealing with your anxiety by drinking too much alcohol or taking drugs? This can cause even more problems. Talk to your doctor if you're having trouble cutting down.
  • Smoking and caffeine can make your anxiety worse. If you smoke, try to quit. Try to cut down on coffee, tea, cola and other food and drinks that contain caffeine.

Helping someone with an anxiety disorder

  • Learn about anxiety and anxiety disorders.
  • Support the person’s decision to seek treatment, if that's what they want to do.
  • Make time to exercise together.
  • Be encouraging and understanding. Ask them if they want to talk and how you can help. Listen with sympathy and try to work out exactly what they're anxious about. Even if they're not ready to talk about it, just having someone try to understand can be helpful.
  • If you're offering advice, be sensitive to their feelings. The same applies if you're trying to explain why you think their fears aren't realistic or making suggestions about solving a problem.
  • It's not helpful to tell someone with anxiety to relax or snap out of it.
Page last reviewed April 2017 | C1025V1

This is a general guide only, and does not replace individual medical advice. Please speak to your doctor for advice about your situation. The RANZCP is not liable for any consequences arising from relying on this information. Subject matter experts, people with lived experience of mental illness and carers all contributed to this fact sheet.